Lockdown fallout and cost of living crisis pushes Essex families needing help up by 50%

The fallout from the pandemic and the cost of living crisis has caused the number of families needing help from Essex’s well-being service to increase by almost half.

The increased numbers have left HCRG Care Group – commissioned to deliver services for the Essex Child and Family Wellbeing Service – with a shortfall of around £2 million.

Essex County Council has cited specifically children born during the pandemic falling behind in their development because of social restrictions as a reason for the increased pressures.

It adds the impact of parental stress and mental health problems, which have also increased since the pandemic and as a consequence of the cost of living crisis, also poses serious risks to children’s development, including increased risk of poor emotional wellbeing, depression and anxiety in later life.

Essex County Council has said there has been a 43 per cent rise – from 22,243 to 31,730 – in the number of families using the service in 2023 who had a higher level of need compared to those seen in 2022.

This reflects a 38 per cent increase – from 8,843 to 12,221 – in the number of families experiencing poor mental health and a 38 per cent rise – from 2,375 to 3,285 – of families living in temporary accommodation.

The number of families described as low-income has increased by 47 per cent – from 3,266 to 4,833  and a 43 per cent increase – from 661 to 942 – in the number of refugee families.

A statement from Essex County Council said: “An unforeseen consequence of the pandemic has been that babies born during the pandemic have missed out on the variety of social interaction and stimuli which babies born before the pandemic will have experienced.

“Academic research from a number of sources, and internal Essex County Council reports on school readiness, have highlighted that this considerable disruption is likely to have had an impact on emotional and social development of young children, particularly delays in language and cognitive development which in turn is impacting upon reduced school readiness.

“The impact of parental stress and mental health problems, which have also increased since the pandemic and as a consequence of the cost of living crisis, also poses serious risks to children’s development, including increased risk of poor emotional wellbeing, depression and anxiety in later life.”

“Essex service providers, including schools, have reported that impact of lockdowns and cessation of social interactions of older children and families, along with an increase in the number of refugee families, children and unaccompanied minors has also manifested in a much increased and more complex caseload requiring support to address poor emotional wellbeing.”

HCRG has alerted Essex County Council to a gross cost pressure, arising from case complexity, for 2023/24 of £2.010m, and has undertaken a cost review which identified £517,000 of savings. HCRG has also agreed to use this to partially offset the cost, leaving a net pressure of £1.493m.

A statement from Essex County Council added: “Whilst every effort has been made by the provider to deploy resource based on relative need, the sheer scale and complexity of need, combined with the requirement for mandated universal support, has meant that the 2023/24 envelope is insufficient to discharge the commissioned services and deliver the necessary wellbeing support, across the pre-birth to 19 spectrum that the contract is designed to do.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter